By: Reed Tinsley, CPA
Why should you strive to give exceptional customer service to your patients? Why not just good? The answer is that most patients often have a hard time differentiating between similar services offered by different physician medical practices, but they can readily differentiate between different levels of service.
One reason for this is because exceptional service that is, service that exceeds their expectations and exceeds what they have received elsewhere elicits an emotional reaction, and emotions imprint in our memories.
Patients have very good and very long memories with respect to customer service, and this is what makes a practice "referable." If you are not getting a lot of new patient referrals from patients (depending on the specialty of course), then there may be a problem with customer service in your office. So here are some ideas for elevating your patient customer service from good to exceptional:
It starts at the front desk
This is a new patient's first contact with the office and how established patients continue to interact with the office, we all know this. These interactions include telephone and in-person contacts. Are these interactions friendly? Do these interactions make it easy for a patient (ex. Scheduling an appointment, registration, etc.). Finally, what about your waiting room? If a patient has to sit there for a while waiting to get in to see the doctor, how is their experience? Is there a flat screen TV in the waiting area? Do you offer free Wi-Fi? You get the point.
Spruce up that website
I can always tell how progressive a physician practice is just be looking at its website. In this day and age, websites that really interact with patients is a must in my opinion. We live in an age of technology and many patients want to use in when dealing with their physician. The following are some of the most "modern" features I have found on physician websites, all being HIPAA compliant:
- Secure online bill pay.
- Appointment reminders and lab results messages.
- Patient registration, demographic and health history completion online.
- Completion of a history of present illness prior to the visit.
- Shared patient communication between practices. Practices that refer patients to a specialty practice can make that referral electronically and can follow-up on the patient's progress via the portal.
- "Chat with a Biller" or "Chat with a Collector" function.
- Appointment requests and requests for prescription refills.
- Credit card payments without the use of a credit card machine; online payment plans that automatically drafts the patient's credit or debit card monthly.
- Patient refunds via the web portal.
View patient complaints as gifts
One of the most valuable gifts your patients can give you is a complaint even if it isn't the most pleasant gift to receive. That's because when patients complain they're telling you what you need to do to keep them as a patient. Patients who complain are trying to work with you to resolve any issues between you.
Practice active listening
When you receive a complaint or just a suggestion from a patient, stop everything and listen carefully. Show the patient that you are listening with words like I see yes okay and nonverbal cues such as nodding and eye contact. Ask questions as needed for clarification and to get more information. Take notes as appropriate.
Partner with your patient to find a solution to the problem
Make sure your employees are using language that says we are in this together. For example:
- Let'' see what we can do to fix this.
- I know you're upset, but I will work with you to solve this.
- We have options. Here are some of them.
Train your employees to use solution-oriented language that suggests that a solution exists, and you will find it for them or with them. Avoid blaming others, explaining excessively, making excuses, or getting defensive. For example:
- I will take care of this for you.
- I can assure you this will be resolved.
- I will keep you posted as soon as I learn something.
Always focus on the positive. For example:
- Instead of saying Our policy is say This is what we can do
- Instead of saying I don't know say I'll find out for you.
- Instead of saying You need to talk to say Let me get someone who can help.
Employees, management, and all providers should always thank patients for their input and tell them how helpful it will be for improving the situation in the future.
So always remember this Once a new or established patient makes an appointment with your office, be sure you keep them coming back by wowing them with your office's great customer service.
Reed Tinsley, CPA is a Houston-based CPA, Certified Valuation Analyst, and Certified Healthcare Business Consultant. He works closely with physicians, medical groups, and other healthcare entities with managed care contracting issues, operational and financial management, strategic planning, and growth strategies. His entire practice is concentrated in the health care industry. Please visit www.rtacpa.com